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Yo-yo champion strings the competition along on world stage

Jason Spies

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Zac Rubino, a 21-year-old Chico local, has followed his dream of yo-yoing since he was 13. Rubino traveled to Prague last year to compete in the World Yo-Yo Contest, in which he placed fifth in the offstring division. Photo credit: Caio Calado

At 13 years old, Zac Rubino watched the National Yo-Yo Contest in the City Plaza in downtown Chico.

It was that performance that inspired Rubino and helped him become the 2014 offstring national champion and fifth overall in the yo-yo world.

“I remember standing there watching one performer do these crazy tricks,” Rubino said. “I thought that was the coolest thing, and I wanted to be able to do that and compete on a national stage.”

The 21-year-old Chico local got his first yo-yo from his brother-in-law at Bird In Hand, a downtown store dedicated to yo-yos.

“I grew out of that first yo-yo within about two weeks mainly because it was a beginners model,” Rubino said.

He was then inspired by a method that he witnessed at a junior high performance called offstring yo-yoing. This style is performed by using a yo-yo that is not directly tied to a string, and in order to perform a trick one must wrap the string around the axle.

“He was taking the yo-yo and flipping it up in the air and catching it with the string,” Rubino said. “With the begining style of yo-yoing, I was limited. Now with the offstring, I feel like whatever my brain can think of, I can do.”

To help himself get to where he is today, he set up a practice plan. This strict practice routine consists of practicing at least one hour every day and up to four hours every day before competitions.

In 2009, Rubino entered his first competition, the Bay Area Classic. He came in third place, losing to a world champion and a six-time national champion.

“For me, it was getting up there on stage and getting a medal at my first contest,” Rubino said. “I was like ‘Huh. I might be good at this.'”

The competition contestants are judged and critiqued on two main factors:

  • The technical portion focuses on the specific tricks that are being shown, and the degree of difficulty and risk are taken into account.
  • The performance portion focuses on creativity, music, rhythm, body control and use of the stage.

“I try to base my routine off of the Jabbawockeez, the dance group from America’s Best Dance Crew,” he said. “Except I am using a yo-yo, and they are way better at dancing than me.”

Last summer, Rubino began an internship in Japan where he worked alongside his friend and mentor, Hironori Mii.

Mii, a Chico State alumnus, was a big part of getting the offstring style of yo-yoing to the U.S. and was a national offstring champion in 2000.

On Aug. 7-9, Rubino traveled to Prague and competed in the 2014 World Yo-Yo Contest. In the competition, more than 1,000 competitors from 30 different countries gathered to show their skills. Rubino placed fifth overall in the offstring division.

In addition to competing, while abroad, Rubino learned about the business side of the yo-yo world. In Japan, he was offered a job to run an online store of accessories called Yo-Yo USA. His sponsor, Duncan Toys Company, paid for his travel, hotels and yo-yo accessories.

When back in the U.S., Rubino competes in the National Yo-Yo Contest, held annually in Chico, every year and has never placed lower than third.

Last year, Rubino placed first in the National Yo-Yo Contest, making him the national offstring champion.

For the future he looks to defend his national title in October at the National Yo-Yo Contest and has high hopes of placing higher than fifth in this year’s World Yo-Yo Contest, which will be held in Japan.

“I had a bad day that day,” Rubino said. “I missed a third of my routine but got the second highest technical score. So if I can nail my routine, I have a really good shot at winning the world championship.”

Jason Spies can be reached at [email protected] or @Jason_Spies on Twitter.

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Yo-yo champion strings the competition along on world stage